Today I’m cutting the time in half between you and vegan baba ganoush with this air fryer eggplant dip recipe. Perfect for when you’re hungry for baba ganoush, but don’t want to wait for a whole eggplant to roast in the oven or cook on the grill.
(I give standard oven directions as well!)
For a while after we moved back to Iowa from Los Angeles, I felt very baba ganoush deprived. The baba ganoush I could find locally didn’t have any of that signature smokiness that I really crave. It just tasted like a plainer hummus.
(Although, I did ultimately find a baba ganoush I love at Olive Tree in the Quad Cities. Check it out on my vegan Iowa page if you’re a fellow baba ganoush-loving Iowan.)
So I set about making my own baba ganoush – prepared just the way I like it with plenty of smokiness, a bit of body, light on the lemon juice, nutty undertones from my favorite tahini, and of course, a little kick of garlic.
What is baba ganoush?
Baba ganoush is the smoky, eggplant-rich cousin of hummus. Whereas hummus uses chickpeas as the base, baba ganoush uses eggplant instead. The eggplant has been roasted, grilled, or in today’s case air fried, until it picks up smoky flavor from cooking at a high temperature.
I’ve made baba ganoush a million ways over the years – by roasting the whole or halved eggplants in the oven, on a cast iron skillet, or on the outdoor grill (including the time I forgot it was out there and it was burnt to a crisp.)
That’s the problem with long cooking times… sometimes you move on to other things and forget about your old friend, aubergine.
Air fryer eggplant dip
Luckily, you won’t forget that purple pal in today’s air fryer eggplant dip recipe, because it takes only 20 minutes to fully cook the eggplant. While roasting in the oven can take twice that (or longer), halving the eggplant and putting it in the air fryer means you can cut the cooking time waaaaaaaaaaay back.
It also means that baba ganoush doesn’t have to wait for special occasions. And in fact, you could have the eggplant dip done from start to finish in less time than it would take you to drive to your favorite hummus & falafel restaurant, place an order, and have it brought to you.
How to make air fryer eggplant dip
Start with a medium sized, standard globe eggplant. (You don’t want a skinny Japanese eggplant or those adorable mini eggplants.) Make sure the eggplant looks fresh, smooth, and shiny. (You don’t want an eggplant that looks wrinkled, cut, shriveled, or damaged.)
Slice the stem off the top, and then cut the eggplant length-wise down the center. Rub oil on each half, front and back. Then use a fork to stab holes into the peel.
Now it’s ready to go in the air fryer!
Place the eggplant halves cut side down in the air fryer, set it for 400 degrees, and 20 minutes. Unlike some air fryer recipes, you don’t need to worry about flipping the eggplant.
Even though the eggplant will get fairly mushy inside, I didn’t have any issue with it getting overly wet or falling apart in the air fryer.
You’ll know the eggplant is ready when the cut portions are toasty brown and even black in parts. The peel will be wrinkled.
Wait for the eggplant to cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, and move it into a food processor. You can discard the peel.
Then add the following to the food processor along with the eggplant:
- Minced garlic
- Lemon juice
- Smoked salt
- Regular salt
Vegan baba ganoush tips
If you’re wary of using raw garlic, a clove of roasted garlic could be used instead.
I prefer to go very light on the cumin, because eggplant has such a mild flavor. It’s easy for heavy-handed cumin to overwhelm.
Even though the high cooking temperature gives the air fryer eggplant dip smokiness of its own, I like to add a bit more by way of smoked salt. You can find smoked salt online, in specialty cooking stores, and even a lot of regular grocery stores have it.
(This is one of the smoked salts in my cupboard, and it’s what I used in this recipe. However, I actually collect smoked salt & pepper. Whenever I visit a cooking store, the call to buy it in various flavors is irresistible. You can often buy a small amount in a packet for a few dollars. I’m sure anything you pick up will be fine for this recipe!)
Smoked salt works well in recipes when you want to add a little extra layer of smokiness. I use it in my vegan split pea soup too.
I like to give the baba ganoush a minimal amount of blending in the food processor. The eggplant dip is best when it still has a bit of chunkiness and body, so that you get more of that eggplant flavor in each bite. So pulse it just four or five times, as opposed to pureeing it.
The eggplant already has so much moisture, adding extra oil to the dip really isn’t necessary. It’s beautifully smooth on its own. (That’s a huge plus over a lot of eggplant preparations that require loads of oil.)
However, if you’d like to add a little drizzle of oil as garnish just before serving, it does add a nice bit of color. Chopped parsley or pomegranate seeds would not go amiss either to set off this very beige dip.
While you certainly can eat the baba ganoush right away, I recommend putting it in a covered container, and popping it into the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld and mellow. The raw garlic cools down and intertwines with the other flavors, and all of the tastes find a kind of fusion.
How to serve vegan baba ganoush
This vegan eggplant dip can be served cold right out of the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Serve it with:
- Toasted pita bread
- Sliced cucumbers
- Bell pepper wedges
- Carrot sticks
- Grilled artichoke hearts
- Balela from my favorite vegan Trader Joe’s products
- Warmed Castelvetrano olives
- Turnip pickles
Air fryer eggplant dip (Vegan baba ganoush recipe)
- Cut the stem off of the top of the eggplant. Slice the eggplant down the middle lengthwise. Put a teaspoon of canola oil on each eggplant half, and rub it evenly across the entirety of the eggplant, including the cut side and peel. Prick several holes in the eggplant peel with a fork.
- Lay the eggplant halves cut side down in the air fryer basket. Air fry at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. (If you don't have an air fryer, roast the eggplant in the oven instead. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and put the eggplant halves cut side down on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes. Check at about 35 minutes for doneness since cooking times can vary.)
- When the eggplant is done, the cut side will be toasty brown, and the peel will be wrinkly. Remove the eggplant halves from the air fryer basket, move them to a plate, and allow them to cool.
- Once the eggplant halves are cool enough to touch, scoop the soft eggplant out of its peel, and put the eggplant into a food processor. You'll be able to easily scoop out all of the white, soft eggplant. You can discard the peel.
- Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, smoked salt, and regular salt to the food processor. Pulse the food processor 4 or 5 times. Baba ganoush is best when it still has a bit of body to it, as opposed to being entirely creamy. So make sure everything is evenly combined, but don't blend to the point of being a puree.
- The baba ganoush can be served right away, but it's best if the flavors have a chance to meld for at least a few hours. (It's even better if you can make it the day before you want to serve it.) Move it to a covered container and put it in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.
- Serve the baba ganoush with pita bread and/or sliced vegetables for dipping. If you like, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil onto the baba ganoush before serving.